During our evening services we’re currently taking a slow (but not slow enough) walk through the Upper Room Discourse – John’s account of Jesus’ last teaching with His disciples before He went to the cross. I’ve found myself at times tremendously encouraged, at times tremendously challenged – and sometimes both at once. But the image I keep coming back to at the moment is the image of abiding in Jesus from John 15.
It’s such a beautiful, organic, compelling image. Expressing my total dependence on Christ – which I often feel – but also a spiritual reality – which I grasp less often. There’s a sense in which we’re called to abide – and yet a deep sense in which, if we are believers in Jesus, we do actually abide by nature in Him. But, if you’re anything like me, this reality doesn’t control your lived experience in the way that it should.
I suspect I will continue to dwell on this for a long time before I feel like I understand it any better. I’m enjoying slowly reading Andrew Murray’s book Abide in Christ to help me meditate further on this.
In the context of every day pastoral ministry, there is another gardening-related metaphor which also occupies much of mind at the moment. That is ‘grasping the nettle’. As Paul Tripp writes:
“I’m convinced that the big crisis for the church of Jesus Christ is not that we are easily dissatisfied but that we are all too easily satisfied. We have a regular and perverse ability to make things work that are not and should not be working. We learn to adjust to things that we should alter. We earn to be okay with things we should be confronting. We learn how to avoid things we should be facing. We would rather be comfortable than to hold people accountable. We swindle ourselves into thinking that things are better than they are and in so doing we compromise the calling and standards of the God we say we love and serve. Like sick people who are afraid of the doctor, we collect evidence that points to our health when really in our heart of hearts, we know we are sick. So we settle for a human second best, when God, in grace, offers us so much more.”Dangerous Calling, 59
In other words, we often fail to grasp the nettle. Tripp is writing in the context of pastoral failure, and about our ability to self-deceive, but I believe the point has wider application in the body of Christ. We have lost the art of lovingly challenging one another and encouraging one another towards holiness and growth. If, as a pastor, I’m not open to that myself, and I’m reluctant to do that for others, we shouldn’t be surprised that the church as a whole fails in this area.
And I think these two things are related. I sometimes find it hard to grasp the nettle because I haven’t grasped my abiding in Christ. Because I am fearful of consequences on a human relational level, instead of seeing the priority of nurturing that ‘in-Christ-life’ – either my own or that of a brother or sister I love.
The vine image of John 15 helps us, because in addition to the primary focus on our relationship to and dependence upon Christ, it must also remind us that we are all vitally related to one another. The lone-ranger, independent spirit of the age so often infects the church. We fail to hear all those ‘one-anothers’ of the NT, calling us to care for our brother and sister. What a place church would be if we consistently managed to live out Colossians 3:15-17 – especially v. 16!
15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
So this is really a reminder to myself to keep grasping Christ (abiding in Him) whilst grasping necessary nettles. And perhaps it’s not just me who needs to be reminded of this.